Nationality, DNA, and Roots

50/50.

Growing up in a small town located in the Northeast section of Pennsylvania, ethnicity and nationality defined you. If you were Italian, you lived in the Italian section and went to the Italian church. Growing up in an Italian American home meant fried meatballs every Sunday, seven fishes on Christmas Eve, and knowing all the Italian curse words. It was the culture I was nurtured in and the culture that raised me. I ate ricotta cheese for a snack and tomatoes picked from our garden just like an apple. My grandmother prayed to her saints and always kept a scapular in her brassiere. That’s right I said brassiere. Garlic was liquid gold and getting a jug of wine from the priest meant you were going to feel good at family gatherings. Even if you were under age someone was going to “give you a taste”. It was holy wine after all. Therefore when someone asked me what nationality I was, I proudly explained “Italian and Irish. Almost 50/50 but I was raised in a big Italian household so I consider myself to be Italian.” I had this answer down pat and I was happy to share it with anyone who asked. It wasn’t until last year that I learned this answer, the one I had given so many times before, was actually very wrong.

Childhood home on Carson Street - Nationality was important.
My childhood home on Carson Street.

In fact just last week my cab driver asked me about my nationality. He was from Northern Morocco. He told me I was very Mediterranean looking and could pass as a local in his country. He explained that most women in his area had dark hair and light eyes. When I said I was Italian, he wasn’t surprised. This conversation immediately made me want to go to Morocco. Typically when I visit another country, my American-ness stands out so much that it is almost humorous. I was told once it’s because I wore shorts. That doesn’t happen as often overseas. In fact one time in Vienna, I was walking near a cafe and a group of drunk locals got up and started singing the Star Spangled Banner. Also, while in Croatia, I got chased through a field by a group of people shouting the “F” word. I later found out that was the only American word they really knew. They were probably just trying to be nice but at the time I was terrified. But as you can see, there is no mistaking I’m from the good ‘ol USA. If I could pass as Mediterranean in Morocco for a few days … well then … that goes on the bucket list.

What Nationality was I?

My father was adopted. I knew this my whole life. However, he didn’t know this his whole life. I don’t know where the rumor started that he was Irish and in turn that I was half Irish. Perhaps it was his piercing blue eyes? The reddish hue in our hair? Our insatiable love for a good brew and whiskey? I honestly still don’t know. Sometime around my senior year of high school, we found what we think was his real mother, my paternal grandmother. She explained to us she was Irish and her baby daddy was mostly German. This oddly gave me some comfort because I was raised with a German surname, Saueraker. I never wanted to claim German heritage because I was so proud of being Italian. However finding out we had some German in our blood made the last name seem more purposeful. There was a reason I endured being called “Jodie Sauerkraut” for all those years.

Jodie and Dad - Nationality in question
My father and I at the America’s National Teenager Pageant in Harrisburg.

I got new genes.

Last year, curiosity got the best of me. I decided to take the Ancestry.com DNA test. I paid my money and within a few days, the home kit was sent to me. I mustered up as much spit as I could to fill the tube to the wavy line because apparently there could be no foam just saliva. You would think this is easy. It isn’t. I was nervous waiting for the results and I’m not sure why. At this point I understood that I was Italian, Irish, and German. I could live with that. Of course, I would have to change my canned response a bit but it was still a stellar makeup. Besides with a new last name like Riccelli, there was no more need to explain that I was Italian. It was assumed.

When the tests results came back, I stopped in my tracks. The email came through late at night and I was alone watching bad TV. I read the results about 10x before it set in my brain. No German and Only 5% Irish. Turns out I was mostly English. My first thought was, “Am I related to the Queen? Please say I am related to the Queen. Maybe I am a real life Princess after all. That would make so much sense.”

DNA results for Jodie

All these years I had been saying the wrong thing and now I had to change my answer. I, Jodie Riccelli, am Italian and English with traces of many other things. After I accepted my new nationality, I became intrigued. 1. Why does this matter to me? 2. Aren’t we all really from the same place? (Last time I read up on the beginning of civilization, I believe it was Africa where human life originated.) 3. How accurate were the Ancestry.com DNA tests? 4. Do I have to learn how to make a proper cup of tea now? (Turns out I did because as the hubs traveled to the UK he took a liking to a cuppa.)

I sent a test to my father and had him take it immediately. The results?

He IS the father!

Possible range: Parent, Child – immediate family member
Confidence: Extremely High
Relationship: ******* is your Father

But back to the first question. Why does this matter to me? Well partly I would like to know a bit about my family history on my father’s side. Also, I believe we all want to identify with something. A group we belong to or a place that gives us roots. While I may never know the whole story of where I come from, I’m ok with that. Actually, that is kind of a lie. I still want to know if I am part of a royal blood line. (Hey Queen Elizabeth, I’m looking at you kid! *wink*) As generations pass, the lines get murkier anyway. We all become combinations of the years behind us. There are no “full bloods” anymore, only muggles like Hermione. From this point, we all have to create our own roots.

And that is exactly what I am doing with Ccelli. Our Philadelphia roots have been planted.

Ccelli and Jodie First Kiss
The Riccelli’s est. 2014.

P.S. Adoption is a beautiful thing. There are many children in need of a loving home. While I can’t personally recommend any agencies in the area, feel free to leave some information in the comments.

5 comments

  1. Love this! I remember your dad told me he was adopted when we were in the hotel before your wedding. I think of adopted as sort of nationality all it’s own. It’s sort of like saying, “I’m from this place where I couldn’t stay, so someone made a decision on my behalf and now I’m here, and I will continue to prove every single day that I deserve to be here as much as you “purebred” muggles”.

    I am curious and want to do this DNA test now too.

    Stacy

    1. You should absolutely take the test! It’s a bit like going down a rabbit hole because if anyone has matching DNA they will show up. And you are right, it is a special nationality 🙂

  2. I had just a little difficulty finding how to comment. when I saw the little highlight that said two comments. Once I clicked on that highlight I arrived here. As always you are a great writer and found it very interesting. Interesting also as I recently sent my DNA test to Ancestry.com. Now I know a lot of my family history , but I wanted to confirm my roots. So anxiously I will wait for the results and then I will let everyone know the results. I also found it interesting that you had your father do the test. The question – was it the same test through Ancestry. If so, how did they know to match your DNA to provide results that your father was your father. Sad that I only have one sibling left, out of the eight children my mother delivered. That sibling is my brother. So I will have to have him take the test so we can compare results. I also was thinking to have Kelly Jo take the test also. You do magnificent things Jodie. Love you.. Uncle Bill

    1. Thank you for the feedback on the comments! Ill try to fix that!
      Im curious as to what your results say 🙂
      When you take the test it matches you with anyone else who has taken it. Since they already had my DNA on file, my dad instantly came up as my father. There was no way for them to know we were related because we have different last names and we live in different cities.
      I think in total I had over 70 matches from third cousins on down. That’s the part that’s a little bit like going down a rabbit hole.

      Thanks for reading! Love you 🙂

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